Sermon for January 17

Old Testament Reading 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Epistle Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Second Gospel Reading: John 1:43-51

Sermon: “Not Our Own”

Sometimes our popular cultural myths create problems for us. One such persistent myth is the “rugged individualist”. Anyone who has ever seen a Clint Eastwood movie has definitely seen such a character. Someone who operates by their own set of rules, who lives for their own ends and who rides off into the sunset in solitary splendor at the end of the story. We, here in the western two thirds of the country, tend to have a special fondness for these characters and perhaps even try, at some points in our life, to emulate them. I invite you to hear a call to much much more today. The readings today present a very different view of our human existence. They all have a common theme, namely God reaching into our common, everyday life and making God’s own self known and issuing a call to come and listen and be led into something more. That’s what this season of the church year celebrates – The Sunday’s between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent in a few weeks are about the revealing of God to humankind, and particularly in the person of Jesus the Christ, God in Human flesh.

The Psalms often marvel at the relationship between God and his creation, but few more beautifully than Psalm 139 which begins like this: (Psalm 139:1-6 NRSV)

[1] O LORD, you have searched me and known me. [2] You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. [3] You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. [4] Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. [5] You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. [6] Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

A bit later the Psalmist thinks back even further in his relationship with God: (Psalm 139:13-18 NRSV) [13] For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. [14] I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. [15] My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. [16] Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. [17] How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! [18] I try to count them-they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you.

Scripture presents us with descriptions of a God who knows us intimately and chooses to reveal God’s own Self in surprising ways. How different is this outlook than what we see portrayed in popular culture. Just think for a moment what a difference it would make in our lives if this were how we understood ourselves and our God.

Let me be clear here, Individualism and secularism are not new problems. Paul had them very much in mind when he wrote to that fledgling congregation in Corinth. The city of Corinth sits at a narrow isthmus in Greece, so narrow in fact, that it served as a port city for both sides and a portage point between the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Like most port cities, even today, it had, shall we say, a rather free wheeling lifestyle. Temples of all sorts, anything you wanted – for a price, commerce was king and social status crucial. In short, not all that different from today world. Paul certainly addresses the moral issues that these new christian faced, but its not just a list of dos and don’ts that I want to draw your attention to this morning. In several places, Paul asks the rhetorical question – Don’t you know that…

The first time it occurs in the section we read this morning, He says – “Do you not know that your Bodies are members of Christ?” Now to a Greek of that age and still for many today, that sounds really peculiar. They, and we too still, Thought that the material world and the Spiritual world were two very different realms. What happened in one, could really have little bearing on the other. Their philosophers taught that the material world was hopelessly corrupt and that the Spiritual world was distinct, separate and altogether pure. My intent this morning is not to present a short course of Ancient Greek Philosophy, but rather to merely point out that Paul’s linking of our earthly bodies to spiritual matters might have made perfect sense to any Jews in the congregation, but it would have been very strange to the Greeks.

Now, hopefully, to us in the church, we already recognize where Paul is leading up to: namely that the church itself is the body of Christ in this world. But what I want you to hear again is what a wonderful gift that is, and yet what an awesome responsibility as well. God, in His eternal providence, has not only known us before were even born as the Psalmist wrote, but through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been made more than just a wonderfully complex knitting of biological molecules, we belong to God – one Spirit with the Lord as Paul says. A bit later He asks again – “Do you not know that your Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, Which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price!” What price is that? – the blood of Jesus Christ.

All of this leads Paul to then say – “so glorify God in your Body.” We may understand that body both ways – our own individual lives – what we do matters! And our corporate body – the church – both this particular congregation and the church as a whole – the whole company of believers, wherever they might be. In Romans 12:1 Paul writes that we are to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, that points to our ultimate orientation towards God and God’s glory rather than our own.

Many years ago John Calvin wrote this of these verses: “We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will therefore sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.”

Now I admit that Calvin’s words of explanation are nearly as difficult as Paul’s original ones, so perhaps we could paraphrase it this way: Our lives may be individualistic or ordered by commitments to many different things: career, wealth, power, reputation, sex, nation, political party, church denomination, social group, or ethnic tribe. But we are not meant only for these things. We are not designed to live only for these things. These things, need to be fit into a higher context. They need to be put into their proper places. Indeed, when our attitudes and inclinations are not founded on the rock of the greater and grander reality of God, we become enslaved by those others things. Our lives are only properly ordered when lived in relation to the reality of God and God’s glory.

That sounds like a lot to ask in an increasingly secular society doesn’t it. The world apart from God, views religion with suspicion and distrust. And to a great extent, we deserve it. Our works and our creeds do not match. The secular world simply delights when one Christian figure after the next turns out to be a hypocrite with feet of clay. Paul’s words were written to the church – to believers in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit. Only such can aspire to live a life dedicated to the glory of God. The point of Paul’s words is not to lay down a set of rigid moral expectations – to apply the Mosaic code to the Greeks. No – rather his point to them and to us is more basic: Remember Who you are! And Who’s you are! Let that and the knowledge that you have been redeemed (bought back from the consequences of sin) shape how you make your decision and evaluate your priorities. Let it guide your choices and your pocketbook. Let it be light in dark places and a firm anchor in stormy times. I am not my own – I belong to Christ – Body and soul together – part of the world wide family of God. It is the answer to last week’s question Who are you? Who am I?

Not belonging to ourselves will at times bring us into conflict with those around us and even those dear and close to us. Sometimes, like young Samuel, we may have to deliver some bad news to a system gone wrong. Paul’s words to that congregation in Corinth no doubt grated on several as well. Belonging to God is serious business – its not always going to be unending choruses of Kum-ba-Yah. In a few weeks as we journey through Lent, we will hear our Saviors call to his disciples Mark 8:34-35 NLT

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”

We are both designed and invited to live in community and fellowship with God and with the Body of Christ. It is our privilege to share that invitation with others. Not for our own sake. Not to fill the pews of this or any other church building, but for the glory of God in gratitude for his grace. In these turbulent times of bitter division That message of stern love and grace is one that our world needs so very much. The church is changing rapidly, what it will become is not yet clear. What we do know is who leads it – our Lord Jesus Christ who calls us out our own patterns and into his. The church is the body of Christ – it was never ours in the first place, we are just called to be a part of it.